Good Luck: Episode Fifty-Six

 

The sun slipped down over the treetops, I misjudged my step, fell into the river, was washed away. 

The trick was to cross farther up where the water was shallower, but I’d forgotten that. 

I crashed into a boulder in the center of the river, my wind knocked out. For a while I just hung onto that boulder for dear life. The white water thundered past, surged around me.

The way I got free was I let go again, pulled a hundred yards farther down the rapids, stopped by a fallen tree bridging both banks. I was able to climb up and scramble across, bleeding and laughing.

Up on the other bank, I thought I should turn back. I’d messed around enough with my memories. Electric shock therapy might be a better option. A partial lobotomy. No, it wasn’t right. I’d woken up that morning, not able to recall my mother’s name, again. I had to go solve the trouble at my house of memory. 

I took off my clothes, carried them forward, heavy and soaked. The forest was a maze I couldn’t navigate. I used to know the way. Thorns and bogs dead ends, and all the time the light getting worse.

I blinked and it was nighttime. The air was warm and for the first time I noticed there were no bugs or birds, no animal noise of any kind. I looked up through the canopy of trees and couldn’t see any reliable constellations. The stars were a nonsensical jumble. I put my clothes down on the ground and slept on them. It was a peaceful night. Sometime in the middle, I woke and smelled a fire, but I didn’t get off the ground to see where, or who, it was. I heard howling, but it wasn’t wolves, it was most certainly people. As I looked up to the stars this time, I found that I could move them, rearrange them. I scattered a hundred of them and made Rae’s face, smiling down at me. I fell back into a dream before I found the power to sit up.

A crash woke me up. It sounded like the forest was imploding. A pale, worried morning. My phone rang. The signal was weak. It was my boss at the oil refinery, asking me where the fuck I was. I hung up the phone. 

I heard the crash again. It sounded like a tree had fallen. I put my clothes on in a hurry but couldn’t find my shoes. 

Then it felt like someone was watching me. I looked all around.

“Hello!”

No answer. I walked to where I thought I had heard the noise and found nothing.

“Hello!” 

I heard laughter behind me. I turned back. Up in the trees, I saw people dressed head to toe in black. Two of them wore ski masks. A bearded guy with mascara and skull jewelry. A woman in an ominous snakeskin hat. She said, “You shouldn’t have come back here.” 

“Of course he doesn’t have sense,” the bearded man said. He reminded me of Charles Manson from a cartoon. He flipped down and hung by his hands from the branch, his motorcycle boots dangling. I noticed one of the ski-masked creeps had my shoes. I looked for something on the ground to use to knock the hell out of them. I picked up a good-sized rock but the bearded man had dropped from the tree. 

He pulled out a knife. I threw the rock and hit him in the groin, and I ran as fast as I could, barefoot, over pine cones and sticks and sharp rocks. I heard the rest of them drop out of the tree. I heard them holler and curse my name as they chased me on and on. 

Luck got me out of the forest, that’s all it was. I burst out of the trees and into the sunshine. Blue sky, puffy clouds, butterflies bobbed drunk and beautifully dumb. I dashed across the field of wildflowers my adrenaline-fueled. Behind me, the killers were gaining. “Come back! We want to give you your shoes!” 

The house of memory was far ahead, dilapidated, ready to collapse. 

I ran faster. About a hundred yards from the house, a gunshot rang out. I heard the bullet whiz past my ear. I hit the ground. Another shot went off. I was flat on my belly. I hoped not to die on my belly. I looked back, the killers in black had turned around and were retreating. 

Far off, I heard a sweet voice, “Stop shooting.” I sat up and saw a child on the porch. He had a pair of orange binoculars in his hand. The child yelled up toward the attic. “It’s me. Grandpa. You’re shooting at an older me.” 

The child put down the binoculars and ran through the tall grass and flowers. He arrived, huffing and puffing, sliding face to face with me. Runny nose. A big grin. “You’re back. I didn’t think you would ever come back.” 

“Hi.”

“You came to save us.” 

“I didn’t. But what’s our mother’s name?”

“Robin.” 

“I couldn’t remember.” 

I was a fat little kid. Chubby cheeks and a squeaky voice. Jean overalls and a green and yellow striped shirt. Cowlick. The kid looked happy, he looked like he was playing war. Husky, that’s what they used to call the clothes for kids my size at J.C. Penny. Now I don’t know what they call those clothes, probably nothing. I don’t know if J.C. Penny will even exist by the time you read this.

“Grandpa almost shot me.” 

“He thought you were attacking us too. You’re lucky he can’t see anything. And you’re lucky they didn’t catch you. They’d have eaten you. Come on, let’s get in the house. It’s not safe out here.” 

We stood up and walked through the wildflowers toward the house of memory. On the porch, I was greeted by other two other memories. My grandmother, Florence, standing side by side with herself. One memory of Florence was when she was about sixty years old, and I would have just been a toddler, and the other Florence was about seventy-five, when I was a teenager. The memories seemed drawn to themselves for company. 

“You came to save us!”

“Just in time!”

“I’m not here to save anybody,” I said. “I just dropped in for a visit. I’ve got about fifteen minutes and then I’ve got to go to work. I got bills to pay. I have health insurance I can’t afford to lose.”

“You can’t leave.” They pointed at the forest. I heard the crashing faintly again. “Bad memories are coming tonight.” 

“For what?” 

“To kill us.”

“And they want the house.” 

I told them to stop being paranoid. They showed me a new eviction notice that had been nailed on their door. It had been written in blood. Whose blood? The blood of the memories of one of my mothers, I was told. 

My sixty-year-old grandmother sat me down in the living room and gave me tea and gingerbread cookies and explained how it had all gone down. When I’d foolishly evicted all of the memories from the house, the good memories and the bad memories were ejected into the fields and the woods around the house, together, but they had not been able to come inside. They’d starved in the sunshine, they’d starved in the rain, starved in the moonlight and gone deeper into the forest trying to seek shelter but there was really none to be found. The rain came down and the river rose up and washed out their meager camps. When I was in the hospital and relearning my life, I had been conveniently told all the good things that had ever happened to me (no one ever reteaches you your trauma). As I had read, or been told, about my good memories, they appeared back in the corresponding room of the house where they belonged. The bad memories were still out in the forest. Everyday they grew more resentful, more hostile.  

I heard the crashing noise louder now.

“What are they doing?”

“Building a Trojan Horse, or something,” one Grandma said.

“Making a battering ram or some shit,” the older, wiser Grandma said. 

They took me up the stairs to see Grandpa in the attic. He was slumped in an EZ chair, sound asleep. His deer-hunting rifle was propped on the bookcase. A TV with a built-in VCR was playing a tape of Super Bowl VIII, Dolphins vs. Vikings. Cartridges for the rifle were stacked in rows on the table. I counted five rows of ten.

“That’s all that’s left?”

No one answered. 

Out the window, I saw the field and the wildflowers blowing in the breeze. A figure walked out of the forest. Death. Pale-faced, scythe in skeletal hand. 

“Death is on their side?”

Grandpa woke up, told me to stop being such a ninny. Death had no horse in the race. It didn’t care which memories lived, which memories died, which stayed here, which ones went on forever.

Even from that distance, Death saw me up in the window. He waved. I waved back. Death walked back into the shade of the trees. 

I looked in the doorway. My mother was standing there, holding an infant in her arms. William. Less than a year old.  He was making a fuss. She handed him to me. He felt like a football. Warm and cooing. I thought I’d just scored some kind of touchdown. I looked around the small attic. Now that I had all these memories back, I didn’t want to lose them again. I hugged my mother and we kind of crushed my brother–the football–a bit. 

We went back downstairs. The doors opened one by one and every memory came out of their proper place and met us all in the living room. I looked from face to face, saw the fear. Multiple duplicate memories, just a year or two off, or sometimes just months, or weeks off, of my immediate family, and some of my ex-girlfriends, and sometimes, inexplicably, a lunch lady, or a substitute teacher from the third grade, or some guy I just flat out didn’t know, couldn’t place the face. 

I told them all I would just as soon surrender and everyone would live in the house together. Forget the war between the good memories and the bad memories. My brother, William, thirteen years old, stuck his head in the door. “You don’t know yet?” 

“Know what?” 

“They’ve become cannibalistic.”

“Jesus Christ.”  

“There’s no way to re-integrate them. They want to eat us. They can’t live here again.” 

“So that settles that,” I said.

“It’s kill or be killed. Fight or die.”

I looked around. We looked pathetic.  

“This everybody?”

“It is,” my Aunt Elaine said, smoking a cigarette. 

“There’s not that many of you. I thought there would be more.” 

My mom told me the good memories had been picked off one by one. At first there were raids on the yard, picnics turned into massacres. Now sometimes a window was broken, someone was pulled out.

“How badly are we outnumbered?” 

“Six to one, maybe worse.”

“You’re not counting the children are you?” 

“We’re outnumbered ten to one without the children.” 

“Come with me, forget this place. Let’s get out of here.”

“We’re not leaving. This is our home.” 

“Forget it. Let them have the house. You can’t fight them all off. There’re too many.” 

My Aunt Elaine shouted. She said, “We can’t go. There’re too many sick and dying here. There’re too many kids who are too little to run.”

She opened a door, and behind that door it was 1994, in New Jersey somewhere. Inside, her brother Jeff, forty years old, was in a ward. His legs had just been amputated. He was unconscious and hooked to a machine that was keeping him alive. 

My grandmother said, “There’s a tunnel. I can get the children and the sick to safety.” 

Grandma told me when everyone had been evicted from the house of memory she had come up with a secret idea to tunnel underneath the field, attempt to come up into the house from underneath. They’d dug the tunnel for two months and no bad memory knew about it. But the tunnel had not been complete. If they went into the basement now with a jackhammer, maybe there was a chance they could bust through, get into it, and escape. The tunnel was big enough, wide enough, so hospital beds, and wheelchairs and baby carriages could be pushed. She could take the children and the sick to the basement and they could make a try for it, break through the concrete, gain access and escape far into the forest, and then across the river.

I pulled a few Williams aside. I said, “You have to do something. We don’t stand a chance unless you train some of these people.” 

“With what? We don’t have any weapons.”  

I gave them broomsticks. The plates from the cupboard, kitchen knives. I told him to go into the backyard and try to teach the memories of my Aunt Elaines and lunch ladies and whoever, how to use the broom sticks as bō staffs, the plates as projectiles, the forks and butter knives out of the silverware drawer.

An older, and more jaded, memory of my brother said, “Are you fucking stupid?”

“No,” I said, “I’m not.” 

“I think you are.” 

“Dude, fuck you, we have to work with what we got.”

“Yeah, exactly. With what we got. Why don’t I go and dig around through your memories and find some arsenal memories. Have you ever been to an armory? Or at least a gun range…” 

“I don’t think I’ve got memories like that.” 

“We need bazookas and machine guns.” 

“I don’t have memories like that.” 

“What do you have memories of? Reading books?”

“Mostly, yeah. Reading books, writing books, drinking beer.” 

“I’m going to look for chainsaws and bows and arrows and shotguns. Fuck dinner plates and spoons.” 

“Good luck,” I said. “I think I was in a sporting goods store four or five years ago. I was getting one of those reusable water bottles so I could save the environment.” 

“You make me sick!”

“Seriously, kiss my ass. And while you’re looking…if you come across a Home Depot, the memories in the basement need a jackhammer.” 

He stomped off. I looked out the window. The forest seemed closer than before. 

My father–my many fathers–and I, went out to the front porch. I ripped the boards off the porch. My dad was quiet, and he worked quickly, no comment. We nailed the planks over the windows.

“That’ll slow them down some,” I said. 

He nodded, stoically. 

Sunset. Inside the house, everyone sat in the living room, nervous and quiet, looking down at the floor. I saw out a hole in the planks, a bonfire had begun in the woods. We heard a howl as it rose. A war cry. 

Then I saw a dot of fire. And another and another. I realized they were carrying torches. 100 dots. 100 torches. Then 200 torches. 300. I’d overestimated how many good memories I really had. I’d underestimated how many bad memories I had. 

The torches began to move forward with a great war cry. 

The jackhammering began in the basement. Broomsticks were raised. Forks and butterknives were brandished. Aunt Judy held a pillow, the best weapon she could find. 

Grandpa peeled off a few rifle shots. Some of the dots of fire fell to the ground. Death greedily swooped over and raised the dead memories to their feet again, took them off with him in a merry dance into the shadows of the forest, singing such a beautiful song. 

The rifle echoed out again. Again. Again. There were too many of them. The wall of bad memories kept marching forward. Somewhere in that shrieking mess of bodies, I knew the killers in black were smiling.

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books, 2020), among others.

One response to “Bleeding & Laughing”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *